India Inc. has been facing an unprecedented economic slowdown and high unemployment rates since the last few fiscals. The Covid pandemic has threatened the economic system. In January 2021, when the country is on the threshold of a new fiscal, citizens are expecting adequate budgetary allocations from the government to normalise the situation. Since the last quarter of FY 2021, there has been some economic recovery but without an improved academic atmosphere, there can be little hope of any new traction in employment generation.
According to UNESCO, over 91% students globally have been affected by the outbreak. In India, educational institutions have temporarily closed due to the pandemic and that has affected more than 320 million students.
The higher education segment has suffered from delayed sessions; few competitive exams have also been cancelled. But along with this, in the primary education segment, the dropout rate has risen highly. The government through its new National Education Policy, 2020 is trying to include more children into the primary education system - by the 5+3+3+4 format. The policy expands the scope of the Right to Education Act. It will organise the Early Childhood Care Education (ECCE) for better accessibility and affordability. But the success of this idea will depend on the implementation of the same in 2021. The government will have to be more focused on this.
India has more than 250 million school going students which is significant even in the global context. The country has more than 39,931 colleges and 993 universities. But keeping in mind the present demographic scenario, this figure needs to be improved highly in the upcoming fiscal. Public and private partnership will be a valuable option along with more foreign investments. India allowed 100% Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the education sector two decades ago. But it is inevitable that the sector comes under basic rights and public welfare concerns.
The pandemic has actually accelerated the growth of online education not only in India but globally. According to KPMG, the online education market in India during 2021 will reach $1.96 billion. Additionally, India is standing at the second position for e-learning after the US.
The Study Webs of Active Learning for Young Aspiring Minds (SWAYAM) portal for online courses of students of school (class 9 to 12), undergraduate and post-graduate stages was recently launched by the government. Through this portal, the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) is providing 44 online courses to promote e-learning methods. Additionally, the National Digital Library (NDL) has been serving as an online platform with more than 15.3 million digital books. Since online learning has become an essential part of education, the government must ensure more availability of online books and should invest in training for online-teaching approaches.
When the government is trying to promote e-learning methods, few private players like Unacademy and BYJU’s have already realised the thrust of online education and ascertained the revenue model for online-education businesses. During last year, these platforms have gained extraordinary profits. However, few of the courses are quite costly and unaffordable for a large number of students.
According to RedSeer and Omidyar Network, online school education is projected to increase by 6.3 times in 2022. Professor Saikat Maitra, Vice-Chancellor, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad University of Technology (MAKAUT) told BE, “As the online mode of learning is gaining pace, in 2021 the government will have to ensure adequate internet connectivity and enough gadgets for every student – that is deficient in India. Otherwise, students, who are unable to use gadgets, will face significant disparity.” Internet penetration has improved than earlier days and smartphone users are expected to experience an increase of 84%. But even this figure needs to be enhanced to meet the demand of the Indian education sector in 2021.
Skilling the teachers
During October last year, the Union Cabinet approved implementation of the Strengthening Teaching-Learning and Results for States (STARS) project that will cost `5,718 crore. The project will additionally receive financial support of $500 million from the World Bank. This needs to be executed. To upgrade 150 government industrial training institutes, Tata Technologies signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) of `4,636.50 crore, with the Karnataka government. This will be in operation for the upcoming 10 years.
Professor Maitra added, “Additionally, more government funding is required immediately to educate teachers regarding e-learning. In India, even a section of teachers is not comfortable to teach online.” The National Repository of Open Educational Resources (NROER) initiative will collate comprehensive resources for teacher and student education.
Union Budget 2021 expectations
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman will be delivering the Union Budget 2021 that will be the first one after the introduction of the National Education Policy, 2020. Last year’s budget had seen an increase in the allocation for the education sector by 5% to `99,311.52 crore. The Revitalising Infrastructure and Systems in Education (RISE) by 2022 with an outlay of `3,000 crore has also been introduced. This year, the expectation is to increase further accessibility that will include more students in the academic periphery. The upcoming budget should also focus on how to minimise the number of dropout students and must identify them to initiate the ‘back-to-school campaign’ for the already dropout students.
Professor Maitra added to BE, “To build a better academic atmosphere, it is important to strengthen the country’s overall infrastructure like road connectivity and industrial developments. Due to poor connectivity in many areas students are lacking adequate training from the respective industry experts. The government should pay attention. Additionally, to catch up with the obvious trend of robotics, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), the budget will have to allocate more funds to build these infrastructures across India. The students must get adequate opportunity for self-learning.”
Focus on education to strengthen employment situation
As the vaccines have started to roll out globally, nations are getting the confidence to normalise the economic system and India is not an exception. The ManpowerGroup Employment Outlook Survey has recently published that corporate India is showing healthy signs of recovery. Last year, after huge pay cuts and pink slips, in 2021 the industries are looking forward to hiring again. The Indian education sector must make the students ready to meet the demand of the industries in near future. Knowing data driven, AI-based solutions is expected to be a necessity in the job market and the government should act accordingly.